Archive for the ‘organizational information’ category

Case Studies: Walking in Someone Else’s Shoes

June 25, 2008

Case studies are becoming an increasingly popular B2B marketing method, especially online, because they feature the best of your product or service without looking like a blatant marketing ploy or brochure.

In a sense, they allow a prospective customer to put themselves in someone else’s shoes to see if there’s a fit. It’s a version of the try before you buy concept often used in consumer marketing.

But too many online case studies haven’t really made the jump to true case study. Instead they merely re-arrange the standard advertising/marketing language and add a “real-life” example. As a result they start to sound like those late night television ads that feature some happy customer spouting marketing speak:

“Acme’s gizmo sure helped my love life. Thanks, Acme!”

The case study goes back to the early 20th century when it was used in the study of medicine, but quickly spread to the business world, most notably used by the Harvard Business School as a way to educate its graduate students because there were few business books around at the time.

As a marketing method, it can be powerful way to demonstrate your value proposition and expertise. But only if it’s done correctly. And correct means it must follow the model devised by its originators — as an educational tool that is only peripherally marketing. It’s not an advertisement that screams “Buy! Buy!”.

So, here are some tricks to composing good cases.

  • Case studies are not about you. Well, they are in a sense, but with much moderation. They’re about customers and how you helped them solve THEIR problems. People don’t care about your problems. Neither do they want to hear you brag about what geniuses you are.
  • Case studies should follow a problem-solution format. Even back in the medical days, a case has always been about a problem, its repercussions, and how it was or was not solved. If your case is mostly about your “solution”, and very little about the customer’s problem … then you have a problem.
  • Case studies are storytelling. Problems cause emotions, mostly negative; resolutions to problems cause positive emotions. Emotions create drama, which is the basis of all storytelling. You don’t have to get into “…it was a dark and stormy night” kind of storytelling, but there should be a logical dramatic flow to your case study that keeps the reader interested.
  • Case studies involve lessons. The point of a case study is to educate — supposedly to educate prospective customers on how you think, and therefore how you can help them, which might lead them to consider hiring you or buying from you. So they always involve lessons, implied or overt.
  • Case studies should be tight. There’s no room for pet causes, philosophical ramblings, or subtle asides in case studies. People want to hear the story so it can help them solve their own problems. Stick to your point.
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Mental Taglines

May 20, 2008

A Venture Hacks post on how to pitch a startup with the kind of high-concept marketing common in the movie industry, reminds me of something I often advocate when undertaking marketing or business planning.

That’s the creation of a simple “mental tagline” that becomes a guiding light for ensuing operations.

The post points out that movie makers often use short high-concept descriptions to pitch their projects. “Jaws in Outer Space” to describe the movie Alien, for example. They work because they instantly tie the listener to something familiar, and therefore understandable.

The mental tagline and high concept pitch also have benefits for marketers and communicators struggling to get across their products or services to prospects. This is especially true if the product or service is complex and technical, as is so often the case today.

The mental tagline doesn’t have to be the organization’s actual tagline. Instead, it’s planted in the brain to help everyone stay on track as they’re developing or selling a product or service. If they start to wander off the path, which is not uncommon, they can always refer to the mental tagline to get back. It’s a guiding beacon, much like a lighthouse is for ships.

For example: “We make widgetry simple (or cheap, or useful)” for a widget maker. Or “Relieving that pain in the neck” for a drug. Or “High-powering the computer” for techology. Or “Making databases available to all” for software.

Whatever is your core business or your mission is the mental tagline, which I often compose after completing a W6 planning process (see previous post on the W6).

If you add high-concept thinking to it, the mental tagline starts to guide you to how to achieve the mission. For example, for the “High-powering the computer” tagline, the high concept might be “Apple meets the PC” or “Think supercomputing for dummies”.

So in a sense it’s a very high-level mini plan.

Enough with the social networking!

April 6, 2008

This week I received invitations to two more social networking sites. In this case they were promising to help me manage my online reputation.

I seem to be getting these continuously these days. In the early days of LinkedIn, I used to think “cool, a great way to network and enhance my SEO efforts.” I even advised clients and everyone I knew to do the same. (and yes, I secretly smiled at the “luddites” who said they couldn’t see the point.)

Now, I just think “what a nuisance.”

There are the really big sites, of course, such as Facebook and Linkedin (sorry I could never get interested in MySpace — I don’t work in cartoons). They’re good for just general networking, socially or for business purposes.

But every pursuit in which I’m interested now seems to have at least one, and often several, community site dedicated to that pursuit alone. Marketing — many. Management — several. Consulting — a few. Science — a couple of good ones. Music — of course. Job searching — oh yeah. Online reputation — apparently at least three.

All of them are vying for my time constantly. I could literally spend my entire day on these sites, networking myself into poverty.

What I find particularly upsetting about this avalanche of social networking is that they all claim they’re “innovative”. Since I work in the innovation management field considerably, I beg to differ. Innovation is creating radical or near-radical change — in products or business models. These are not innovative: they’re just taking standard community building tools and slicing up the social networking field in ever more fine gradients for marketing purposes.

At best it’s called working a niche. More likely, it’s simply copycatting with a slight differentiation.

Let’s take the latest invitations I’ve had. They are part of a group that includes companies like Naymz.com ReputationDefender.com and DefendMyName.com. For a fee, they promise to scrub search engines of anything I don’t want to see about me out there, or to create a new online identity for me.

Isn’t this just search engine optimization, which I – and probably you — have been practising for years? It’s just a newer version of the Google Profile technique.

Also it presumes that social networking sites are where most of our content rests — which to me seems a pretty narrow view. Most MarCom people have (or should have) much more content on their sites than simple social networking profiles, or blog comments.

A well rounded search engine profile should have these, of course, as well as white papers, FAQs, articles, endorsements, and other expertise-marketing content.

To help in organic search, SEO should be a planned and consistent process, with new content added on a schedule. If social networks are to be part of this mix, fine, but it shouldn’t take it over.

Complexity to Clarity: Translating geek and other business languages

March 27, 2008

This morning, I facilitated a discussion among technology marketers on the growing problem of language dichotomy. Specifically it was the problem of an overwhelming culture of geek speak and how it bleeds in to the marketing side of things.

Now, the problem of the genius manager who can’t seem to speak in anything under 10 paragraphs, isn’t new. But what does seem to be new is that it’s spreading beyond just tech speak. Jargon, or verbal shorthand for those in the know, is growing everywhere, and in many non-technology sectors.

I’m convinced it’s because of the growth in complexity of modern business: As business management becomes increasingly more process oriented, it becomes increasingly more complex. But at the same time the demand for simple communication — among customers, employees and other stakeholders — has never been higher.

There’s so much information washing around out there now, that people can’t process it all. And this amplifies when the information is difficult and time consuming to process. We’re in the age where information moves at light speed so as to convert to knowledge, and if you can’t convey something simply and quickly, no one listens further. There are just too many alternatives that can be added to their knowledge base.

So, we’re talking about an information flow problem, which seems to be most egregious in the technology space. This is probably because too much emphasis in IT is put on the T (technology) and not enough on the I (information) part.

What came out of our discussion was a recognized need to return to the basics of communication. This can be summed up in a few points.

  • It’s not about the technology, it’s about the business. This can be expanded to mean it’s not about the product or service but about what the product or service does for the buyer. That’s all he or she cares about, and so that’s the information that should be delivered.
  • Know thy customer. Or, in other terms, separate the information receiver into needs segments. Sounds pretty basic, but many business processes don’t think in these terms. They think in terms of what they do, not what they can do for someone.
  • Be extremely clear about the benefit or threat (if ignored). This is an old sales technique, and is also the basis of the oldest information delivery system around — the news industry. It means you have to put your product or service into terms that are understandable emotionally — it helps because of this (i.e. saves time, saves money, or something else), or avoids a threat that might hurt you (i.e. less revenue, higher costs).
  • Know yourself. There’s usually miscommunication in business because the information deliverer doesn’t really understand what its own business is, and so can’t convey that to the receiver. Use the W6 process I posted on previously to determine who you are, what you do, and who you do it for.
  • Simplify, simplify, simplify. As a marketer, you have to act as the bridge between the geniuses in the labs who created the product or service, and the not-so-genius people who are going use it. The only way to do this is to put it into simple, understandable terms. Strip away all the add-ons and subtleties and say it in a few short words. Then put them back in when the prospect asks questions.
  • Consider the differing intelligences. Intelligence is how you process information, and most information deliverers, i.e. the CEO or CTO, often have linear intelligences…. they think logically. But there are 7 different intelligence types and it’s a good bet that most receivers are of the six that are not linear. So it’s like someone sending out a signal on one radio channel while the radios are tuned to other channels. It’s just not going to register.

Promoting the Service Business in the Media

March 19, 2008

I have been working in professional services and association marketing lately, and so have been asked often about how to promote service operations. Invariably, these organizations are at some growth stage and so want to gain attention on a wider scale in order to increase membership or gain business.

When it comes to promotion, which is a very important part of integrated marketing for service businesses, you’re kind of stuck. Generally, the promotion outlets available aren’t terribly interested in what you do. So you have to be creative and often find and access alternative channels.

We’ll get into those in a later post. In this post we’ll concentrate on what everybody thinks of first: The media.

First, let’s put forward some elementary concepts.

Promotion is not “free advertising” for your business or service. All media are in the advertising business, so they’re not going to give it away free just because you ask them to or attempt to browbeat them into it by your size, connections, or marketing budget. Do you give away your legal or consulting services? Of course not, and neither will they.

But most media do carry neutral content to attract readers so that advertisers can (they hope) reach them. This is usually in the form of news, but can also be more in depth feature articles, or columns aimed at analyzing some trend or providing advice.

And this is where you have your best shot. You can gain some peripheral promotion through expertise marketing, which is simply showing your expertise (the core of your business) through commentary or advice.

Before you go about it, consider some basic realities:

  • If you’re a service business organization, the traditional press probably doesn’t care about you. Because they’re in the mass advertising business, they look for articles that fit the mass. And this usually means consumer thinking. News values for information in this area are generally some form or combination of novel or quirky, celebrity, threat or harm, or triumph over adversity.
  • Since most service businesses are B2B, you’re probably too complicated and too focused on one specialty for them to write about directly. In a word, you’ll come across as kind of boring to the mass.
    • Because the media generally thinks in consumer or social terms, anything to do with service businesses or groups is almost always handed to the business section, which cuts down your range considerably.
    • Business sections, business media, and trade magazines have their own kind of consumer thinking. In this case it’s expressed primarily as coverage of business winners and losers, and the measurement of this in the form of money made or lost. So the coverage is usually about very big companies that move a lot of money around. Most service businesses don’t involve enough to be noticed. If they are of any interest at all, it’s generally for a media subset called “small business” which usually showcases plucky or quirky local business startups or successes.

    Once you’ve assimilated these basics, it’s time to consider how you’re going to use expertise marketing to get your name in the media so it’s in front of potential clients or members. Some rules for expertise marketing:

    • Forget about yourself. First rule is that it’s about your expertise, not about you. This means that the standard advertising-style messaging or value propositions aren’t going to work. The media doesn’t care about you or what you do, they care about what you know.
    • Codify your expertise. What exactly do you specialize in that might be useful to readers? If you’re a lawyer, it’s not about that. But if you’re a tax lawyer, you have some special expertise that can be used either as commentary on another situation, or in the form of advice regarding taxes.
    • Be honest. I’m going to thank BNet blogger John Greer, who in Catching Flack, summarized some pretty good advice regarding media relations. He was talking about public figures, but it holds true for expertise marketing as well. Greer points out that media people “tend to judge individuals by who returns their calls and gives them honest answers and good quotes.”
    • Be on call. Media needs you when they need you, not when you need them. So the best way to get a top spot on a media outlet’s list — the golden rolodex — of experts is to always be available. In fact, say many press people, it’s 80 per cent of the equation.
    • Be concise. If you’re in a professional service business, you’re probably a complex thinker. But don’t bring that to a media interview. Learn how to summarize your thinking in a pithy quote. There’s no room to bring in all the subtleties. You’re being asked for a quotable comment, not a position paper.

    What’s A Word’s Worth?

    February 5, 2008

    Back, about what seems like a hundred years ago, I ran a newspaper rewrite desk that was charged with helping the paper make the transition from broadsheet to tabloid. Because this was a difficult switch for most reporters, the desk used to go through regular training exercises aimed at constantly finding the right word that would resonate with many meanings.

    Our model was what, to my mind, was the best sentence ever written — “Jesus wept”. Two simple words that carried immense meaning.

    This wasn’t because we were particularly religious — hey it was a newspaper — but because those nine letters resonated far beyond the actual words used.

    Using the word “Jesus” instantly brought dozens of concepts to mind: whether you were a close follower or not, you probably knew the story of Jesus, and so could bring many thoughts to the word. Jesus was a leader, a prophet, God, a wise man, a healer, a thinker, a preacher, a miracle worker, etc.

    The word “wept” conveyed almost as much. Why did Jesus weep? For us, because we were frailer than he was; because mankind didn’t understand his mission; because the Romans were taking him away to be crucified; because it succinctly summed up the theory of Christianity; or all of the above?

    Two simple words that told a powerful story and so were worth far more than their size. And that’s what every marketer and communicator has to keep in mind today.

    Back in the day of the transition from broadsheet to tabloid writing the concept of a short story was considered sacrilegious, but rapidly became the norm. And writing has progressed continually since.

    We’re now in an era where social networking style of writing is the most common style used. Acronyms, short forms, mobile messaging, flaming, punchy and to the point writing rule. Try using newspaper style in a PR 2.0 press release or a blog post today and you’ll quickly spill out all over the place. Worse, your message will probably disappear into the morass.

    Today, when you write (and think), you have to get to the essence all the time. There’s no room for vague and fuzzy; no time or space for bringing in vaguely interesting, albeit extraneous, concepts.

    You have to know the worth of every word.

    There are so many messages, so much information transferred visually or aurally, so many demands on attention, that there is no room for the big, sweeping style of communication that was once so common. Neither is there room for the kind of fuzziness so favored by corporate communicators whose objective was to obscure more than inform.

    In a sense, today, you have to think in headlines and taglines all the time. Or at least in bullet points. Whatever has multiple meanings and psychological triggers.

    So, whenever you sit down at the keyboard, slow down and think “Jesus Wept”.

    B2B Marketing: Venturing Beyond the Trade Press

    January 7, 2008

    Most marketers for technology vendors and other B2B operations are quite familiar with the trade press that covers their industry. Most are also quite successful at placing their messages in these specific media outlets.

    But almost all are also under pressure from senior management CEOs to get their product or service written up in the broader business press.

    It’s the get me in USA Today/New York Times/Entrepreneur magazine/local business magazine/television syndrome.

    So off goes our marketer, trying to apply consumer marketing to the business to business sphere. And usually failing miserably.

    This doesn’t work because these kind of demands are just as often aimed at boosting egos, or impressing colleagues as they are at accomplishing marketing objectives.

    There may be some peripheral marketing kick in including a story in the straight press in your press kit. But it’s often not worth the time and effort.

    So here’s some ammo for the next time your client/CEO/Marketing VP muses about getting some straight press coverage.

    1. Our product or service is too boring. You may have a great service or product that’s registering with your target business market, but that doesn’t mean the straight business press will be interested. Because it sells advertising, the straight press is usually consumer oriented. So it tends to cover business from a consumer point of view, which means excitement (and yes, that often is shallow). Don’t forget, there’s a lot of competition for space so a reporter has to sell the story up the line, usually to people who don’t know anything about business. And B2B is rarely exciting.

    2. We don’t have what they want. The straight press invariably looks for articles containing one or more of the standard news values — novelty, celebrity, harm or threat, trendiness, tragedy or triumph. You probably don’t want to be involved in a story that’s tragic, probably aren’t very trendy, aren’t that unique, and don’t have an army of paparazzi chronicling your every move. So what do you have that they want?

    3. We’re too complicated. This can be a problem with your own customers, who are supposed to know what you’re talking about. What do you think is going to happen if you drone on for 10 minutes to a straight press reporter about how your product or service works. Eyes Glaze Over time. If they can’t understand it instantly, they don’t want to know.

    4. We’re making them work too hard. Business reporters, like most straight press writers, are very, very busy trying to juggle multiple demands. They have quotas (mental, if not actual), and if you want to be noticed, you better hand them the story on a plate — meaning you’ve lined up everything for them. If you make them work too hard, they’ll give it a pass and find something easier. Web 2.0 press releases, which include links to all articles about you, your web site, clients who will speak for you, independent analysts/consultants, and any other information about you, can help considerably with this.

    5. We’re no different than the last 10 companies that talked to them. Every CEO thinks his or her business is unique. It may be, but it’s unlikely. The truth is, almost all of them are some variation on a common theme. Since most reporters have heard all these stories before, they tend to dismiss them unless it’s immediately obvious that there is something different.

    6. We can’t explain ourselves very well. What works for B2B customers or clients probably won’t for the straight press. If your description of yourself is full of jargon, cliches, and insider language (“paradigm shift”, “outcome-based processes”, “software architecture”, etc. etc. ) you’re going to 1. make them feel very stupid and 2. really piss them off. Result: dismissal.